London’s first female fire commissioner Dany Cotton will retire next year, citing the utter devastation of Grenfell Tower fire which she said “will never leave me”.
The fire chief likened the sight of the flames ripping through the tower block in June 2017 to a “disaster movie” when she first saw it ablaze, and later said giving evidence at the public inquiry into the tragedy was the “most difficult thing” she had done in her career.
Ms Cotton was criticised by survivors after telling the probe she would change nothing about her team’s response on the night of the fire.
She revealed she had been plagued with traumatic memory loss and received counselling since the tragedy on June 14 2017, which caused 72 deaths.
The Commissioner will retire in April 2020 after 32 years of service in the capital.
Campaign group Grenfell United, which represents bereaved families and survivors, said she still had serious questions to answer and that they would not allow her to evade responsibility through “this carefully choreographed retirement”.
Ms Cotton said: “I have worked with the best people in the world on some of the most exciting projects, and also some of the most painful incidents to have occurred in London Fire Brigade’s history.
“The utter devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and its impact on so many people will never leave me.
“I want to reassure my staff and all those affected by the tragedy that I will remain dedicated to leading London Fire Brigade through any findings from phase one of the public inquiry and into phase two which is expected to begin next January.”
At the inquiry, Ms Cotton admitted she had not spent much time thinking about the tragedy while head of the LFB as “it would be no good for me to fall apart”.
She also said the fire would have been deemed an “unrealistic scenario” and preparing for it would have been like preparing for a “space shuttle to land in front of the Shard”.
Former resident Natasha Elcock, from survivors’ group Grenfell United, said her comments were heartbreaking and disrespectful to those who lost their lives.
The group said on Thursday: “Dany Cotton still has serious questions to answer about what happened at Grenfell. She stood in front of bereaved families who lost loved ones and said she would not change anything about that night. It was devastating to us.
“We are still waiting for the phase one report. We will not allow this carefully choreographed retirement to allow Dany Cotton to evade accountability.
“This cannot be the start of people who have lessons to learn from Grenfell heading off to retirement without taking responsibility. Dany Cotton will still have questions to answer in phase two of the inquiry.”
Responding to Ms Cotton’s announcement, London mayor Sadiq Khan called her a “truly exceptional firefighter”.
He added: “I‘m sure all Londoners would like to join me in thanking her for doing everything she can to keep our city safe.
“She is a true role model who has broken down barriers for women in London and inspired people who wouldn’t otherwise have considered being firefighters to join the Fire Brigade.
“I wish her the very best in retirement when she leaves the Brigade next year.”
Ms Cotton, now 50, joined the fire brigade at the age of 18 and was one of just 30 female firefighters in London.
She started serving as a firefighter at Wimbledon fire station in 1988 before working her way up through the ranks, becoming the UK’s first female station officer within 12 years.
She became LFB Commissioner in January 2017 and immediately encouraged more women to sign up in a bid to make the capital’s brigade more diverse.